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Tip: Understanding Rank

PEP-Web Tip of the Day

When you do a search, you can sort the results bibliographically alphabetical or by “rank”. What is Rank?

Rank refers to the search engine’s “best guess” as to the relevance of the result to the search you specified. The exact method of ranking used varies a bit depending on the search. In its most basic level, when you specify a single search term, rank looks at the density of the matches for the word in the document, and how close to the beginning of the document they appear as a measure of importance to the paper’s topic. The documents with the most matches and where the term is deemed to have the most importance, have the highest “relevance” and are ranked first (presented first).

When you specify more than one term to appear anywhere in the article, the method is similar, but the search engine looks at how many of those terms appear, and how close together they appear, how close to the beginning of the document, and can even take into account the relative rarity of the search terms and their density in the retrieved file, where infrequent terms count more heavily than common terms.

To see a simple example of this, search for the words (not the phrase, so no quotes):

unconscious communications

Look at the density of matches in each document on the first page of the hits. Then go to the last page of matched documents, and observe the density of matches within the documents.

A more complex search illustrates this nicely with a single page and only 15 matches:

counter*tr* w/25 “liv* out” w/25 enact*

There are a lot of word forms and variants of the words (due to the * wildcards) above that can match, but the proximity (w/25) clause limits the potential for matching. What’s interesting here though is how easily you can see the match density decrease as you view down the short list.

The end result of selecting order by rank is that the search engine’s best “guess” as to which articles are more relevant appear higher on the list than less relevant articles.

For the complete list of tips, see PEP-Web Tips on the PEP-Web support page.

Laub, D., M.D. Auerhahn, N.C., Ph.D. (2020). Probing the Minds of Nazi Perpetrators: The Use of Defensive Screens in Two Generations. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 101(2):355-374.

(2020). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 101(2):355-374

Probing the Minds of Nazi Perpetrators: The Use of Defensive Screens in Two Generations

Dori Laub, M.D. and Nanette C. Auerhahn, Ph.D.


A prominent scholar born in Germany, who left at the age of twelve on one of the last Gestapo supervised immigration trains to occupied France and then escaped to Spain, spent a sabbatical at a university in Germany. During a casual encounter with a German woman close to his age, she asked about his origins, remarking on his accent. He explained that he had spent most of his life in the United States. “Oh, then you must be Jewish,” she responded. “You were so lucky you got out. It was so terrible here. You didn’t live through the bombing and war.” This vignette serves as a paradigm for a form of tainted knowing that precludes empathic knowledge of the unlucky Jewish refugee who, had he not run for his life, would not have lived through bombing and war but been exterminated. It screens out the other and elides genocide, hermetically sealing off interaction with reality and truth. It also eerily echoes concerns of many Germans during the war, who considered the ultimate victims of atrocities to be non-Jewish Germans, especially their own children, upon whom extermination would be avenged (Kohut 2012). It is reenacted in analyses where failure to know the history of places patients have been confounds perpetrators with victims, as if differentiating them does not matter.

Committal of atrocity throws a light switch within perpetrators, turning off vision and entailing withdrawal of recognition of atrocity not only through refusing to know and remember it, but also through refusing to imagine it.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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